Friday, March 12, 2010

DiY Distribution - Stepping into the Water

There has been a great deal of discussion in recent months about alternative ways filmmakers can raise money to produce their films (crowd funding), and distribute them once they've been made (DiY distribution).

As a producer these options are extremely interesting to me. Crowd-funding because it promises (at least in theory), to democratize the process of fund raising by allowing filmmakers with exceptional projects, and savvy teams, to raise the money for their projects. DiY distribution, because it offers producers a way to get their film in front of audiences, monetize their productions, and if handled correctly, pave the way for future projects.

With this in mind my colleague and I have made the decision to leap into the DiY distribution waters to see if we can find our way to the shore. The film we're distributing is a indie film about love, loss, and how we often get in our own way when navigating between the two.

Our reasons for undertaking this will be familiar to any indie producer. Though the film received some genuine interest from distributors - who saw potential with niche audiences - as the filmmakers we'd see little, if any, participation. So over the next several months we will be building and implementing a strategy to reach out to those niche audiences ourselves, and see how far we can take it. I'll be chronicling our progress here.

One thing I can already speak to is that DiY distribution is no easy task. We first started talking about the possibility of attempting this a couple of months ago. After conducting exhaustive research, we are still developing our strategy, determining costs and pricing, designing the web site, poster and packaging, and handling a myriad details.

While it's certainly true that any smart person can self distribute their film, it's a daunting process that many filmmakers may not be prepared for. First, there is a great deal of misinformation about what's actually involved, and how to approach it. The learning curve can be a steep one.

Second, we're finding that DiY distribution requires a pragmatic assessment of the film and market, a moderate financial commitment, an incredible amount of time, and a skill set that includes:
  • project management
  • marketing and demographics
  • web development and SEO
  • ecommerce and fulfillment
  • editing (trailers and clips)
  • writing (web, ad, pr, social media, and marketing copy)
  • affiliate and client management
DiY distribution is eye opening in it's implications for financing and recouping investment, and exciting on many levels. I'll be posting about our progress.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Film Finance Conferences, or How to Spend $175 to Learn in an Auditorium What is Ubiquitously Available On the Internet for Free

Right now... at this very moment... there are literally dozens of Film Finance Conferences being advertised to indie film communities. Many of these Film Finance Conferences charge hundreds of dollars for admission. Some operate under the venerable guise of the non-profit. One such conference — currently being promoted in several Indie Film Groups on LinkedIn — makes such outrageous claims it is clear the organizers primary goal is to separate young filmmakers from their cash.

Many Film Finance Conferences market themselves to filmmakers as a way to: Get Your Project in Front of Investors, Financiers, and Producers Who Can Get Your Project Made!! Few legitimately offer such opportunity. Fewer still provide any real world, practical, and actionable advice for indie filmmakers on how to finance their feature.

At one conference I attended a panelist billed as "an entertainment attorney who had negotiated several high profile projects," was to speak on the following topic: How the New Financial Climate Affects Fund-Raising for Film.

His wisdom
to the filmmakers in attendance...? He read a printed list of film financing methods that included Gap, Supergap, Debt, Pre-sales, and Negative Pickups. Not one word on topic. Not one word about what made the deals he allegedly negotiated happen. Just a list of financing options that is available for free on dozens of sites across the web. He also managed to mention 5 times how vital it was for filmmakers to consult with an experienced entertainment attorney. Several dozen of his business cards were fanned out in front of him on the table.

Another panelist billed as "an expert on business plans who had secured millions of dollars of financing," was supposed to talk about what a good business plan should include, show examples, and explain the process. Instead he meandered across a panoply of topics including thoughts on restaurants and political candidates. His greatest moment of insight was to mention that tax incentives are very helpful to filmmakers.

Another speaker, when asked about how to raise money to make your film, suggested selling T-shirts.

All the while the "moderator," sat slumped in his chair without asking a single question or asking the speakers to clarify or go into more detail.

So are Film Finance Conferences worth the time and money? Can indie filmmakers walk away with solid ideas on how to get their films financed and get their projects in front of financiers and producers who can get their films made? Sadly, the answer is no — don't expect to ever get in front of people with money to invest.

Most Film Finance Conferences are designed to fill the pockets of the organizer by emptying yours... get you to purchase the products or services of the presenters... or outright scams.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Inside In Filmmaking

Over the years, Hollywood – like any other industry – has sought to minimize risk and maximize return so they can continue in business. They have done this by creating a star-driven, blockbuster, and marketing centric industry.

This made sense at first as (conspicuous) consumers love to hear about the glamorous world of stars, and getting the word out about a film is, after all, a necessity to drive ticket sales. However, like many things that were created for a specific purpose, this model has become corrupted over time.

This was evidenced most recently in the banal, Couples Retreat. In the making-of vignette shown on HBO, the stars and producers tell us how they chose the logistically complex, expensive location of Bora Bora in French Polynesia so the film “…would provide a sense of place and greater authenticity for the audience.” Really?

As a producer I am extremely sensitive to every element that goes into making a film from locations to wardrobe to the food we serve the hard working cast and crew. Every detail matters. But choosing Bora Bora as a location had nothing to do with the audience — a dozen equally beautiful and less costly locations could have been selected — and everything to do with providing a playground for the cast and producers. And there lies the problem.

In so many cases filmmakers — and not just Hollywood filmmakers, though they are often the most egregious — create their films from the inside, for the inside. A model that once helped promote the glamor of cinema has mutated into a virtual Panopticon, where the audience is studied by unseen guards from a central tower, placed in demographic cells, and then delivered films made to support the system, rather than entertain the audience.

What the producers should have done in the making-of vignette on HBO, is discuss how they eschewed a shoot in Bora Bora so they could craft a smart script and a comedy worth an $8 - $13 ticket.

Instead the disingenuous producers gave themselves an all expense paid, ten* week vacation on a tropical island, while subjecting the audience to a longer, more expensive retread of the sitcom they saw on Tuesday night. You know, the one where the sophomoric, wacky guys, do those sophomoric, wacky things that frustrate their too attractive wives, who then act all put upon, and do those supposedly more responsible, but equally wacky things that befuddle the sophomoric, wacky guys.

*Ten week shooting schedule is an estimate